Album of the Week: Weekend’s The ’81 Demos (1995)

As a high schooler reading Kurt Cobain’s Journals, I found out about one of his favorite bands, Young Marble Giants. YMG had only one album, 1980’s Colossal Youth: a genre-defying collection of bare-bones tracks. As a teenager, I didn’t understand it, and it wouldn’t make sense to me for years. When it finally clicked, it became something of a revelation.

Young Marble Giants singer Alison Statton led the band Weekend somewhat immediately after Colossal Youth. Other than her, Weekend shares no members with YMG, but their spirit of minimalism is intact on The ’81 Demos, a collection of tracks recorded in 1981 but not released until 1995 by Vinyl Japan.

“Drumbeat” begins the EP with a kind of twee magic in its cute lyrics and chiming bells. Led by a soft drum machine, the 9-minute “Red Planes” is a brilliant example of a song greater than the sum of its parts. Strings and bass form the melody, and Statton’s voice enters after an appropriate length of time, allowing the track to breathe. The result is an ambient pop fan’s dream jam, a track that could easily last another 2 or 3 minutes, but winds down to a halt. “Nostalgia” acts as a blueprint for the kind of music Beach House would make 30 years later, and “Summerdays (Instrumental)” rounds out the demos with a Durutti Column-esque pep.

Weekend did release an album, 1982’s La varieté, but it only captures so much of The ’81 Demos‘ magic. While all 4 songs from the ’81 Demos are on La varieté, they were re-recorded with cleaner production. “Drumbeat for Baby” has some unnecessary horns and “Red Planes” appears as a truncated 5-minute version. In my humble opinion, the songs simply sound much better as their original demos. Thankfully, they were re-issued by Vinyl Japan and the UK label Blackest Ever Black, and are easy to find on streaming services.

Listen to The ’81 Demos here.

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